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Vicodin Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

January 30, 2019

Vicodin combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen to relieve pain. This medication has a high risk for abuse and addiction, however rehabilitation options are available to treat opioid use disorder.

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is available by prescription only and is used as a painkiller to ease moderate to severe pain. Vicodin contains hydrocodone and the active ingredient in Tylenol (acetaminophen). Hydrocodone is an opioid, and in the same drug classification as morphine and heroin.

Prescription opioids are used for pain relief, but due to how they affect the brain, they can be extremely addictive. Some research suggests that taking opioids, including Vicodin, for less than two weeks can result in symptoms of addiction.

Opioids, like Vicodin, produce a euphoric feeling in those who take them. This usually makes a person feel relaxed and calm. The level of comfort that some people feel when on opioids is often a reason why they continue to take them, even after their pain is gone.

Prescription guidelines typically suggest one pill every four to six hours. Each prescription pill combines 300 or 325 mg of acetaminophen and either 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg of hydrocodone. However, when a person is addicted to opioids, they tend to take much higher doses.

Abusing Vicodin

When a person takes Vicodin without a prescription, or in a way that isn’t prescribed, they are abusing Vicodin. It is not uncommon for a person to begin taking Vicodin to for pain relief, only to find themselves taking more pills at one time or more often than prescribed.

After abusing high doses of Vicodin over a period of time, individuals have developed severe liver damage and even failure. This is due to the acetaminophen in Vicodin. Damage occurs in daily doses higher than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen.

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The high risk for liver damage was a key reason that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed regulations to state that all prescription painkillers contain no more than 325 mg of acetaminophen. The prior formulas contained up to 750 mg of acetaminophen.

Due to the highly addictive potential of Vicodin and other prescription opioid painkillers, another government agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) decided to increase restrictions on Vicodin and other opioid combination medications in an attempt to prevent fraud.

Vicodin Abuse Effects

Addiction and liver damage are the largest risks to Vicodin abuse. However, there are a number of effects that abusing Vicodin can have on the body. These risks may include:

  • lowered heart rate
  • shallow breathing
  • increased drowsiness
  • constipation
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • muscle pain
  • cramping
  • nausea
  • vomiting

If a person ingests enough Vicodin, they run the risk of overdose. This can cause the heart and breathing rate to decline so much that the person actually stops breathing and the results can be fatal.

Vicodin Addiction Symptoms

Vicodin addiction can be difficult to pinpoint. People who take Vicodin exactly as prescribed can develop a dependence, and struggle to stop taking it. If the person becomes preoccupied with finding more Vicodin, it may be a cause for concern.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has developed a list of criteria for those who may be struggling with an opioid use disorder (OUD). This edition is the most up to date reference for evaluating and diagnosing opioid abuse or addiction.

The symptoms to determine the presence of a Vicodin addiction (or OUD) are:

  • taking more Vicodin at one time or for longer than prescribed
  • a consistent desire or failed attempts to cut down or control use
  • a significant amount of time is spent locating, using, or recovering from Vicodin
  • craving Vicodin
  • Vicodin use negatively affecting responsibilities
  • giving up social situations or enjoyed activities to use Vicodin
  • continued Vicodin use after repeatedly affecting responsibilities
  • using Vicodin in dangerous situations
  • Vicodin use causing health issues and continued use after knowledge
  • tolerance development
  • withdrawal symptoms emerging once Vicodin is stopped

This new diagnostic guideline continues to explain that a person struggling with an OUD can have different levels of severity. They rate the severity based on how many symptoms a person displays: mild (2-3 symptoms present), moderate (4 or 5 symptoms), or severe (6 or more symptoms).

Vicodin Statistics

  • 11.5 million people, age 12 and over, reported misusing hydrocodone in 2016
  • 83.6 million prescriptions containing hydrocodone were written in 2017
  • Vicodin use went down among high school seniors, but 2.3% reported using Vicodin recreationally in 2018
  • hydrocodone is the most prescribed medication since 2006

Vicodin Addiction Treatment

There are substance abuse treatment programs available that treat opioid use disorders specifically. They offer medically supervised detox, medication-assisted treatment options as well as substance abuse counseling.

Opioid addiction treatment facilities are federally regulated and must meet specific criteria to prescribe the medications used to help a person detox from opioid dependence and continue on a medication-assisted treatment program.

Currently, the FDA has approved the following medications to treat opioid use disorder

  • buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Sublocade, Probuphine)
  • methadone
  • naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Because these opioid treatment facilities require certifications, training, and must follow federal regulations, locating a facility that meets the needs of a person struggling with Vicodin addiction may not be as difficult. There is help available to help live an opioid-free life.

Department of Health and Human Services - National Opioids Crisis - Help, Resources and Information

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction, Monitoring the Future 2018 Survey Results

Drug Enforcement Administration - Hydrocodone

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Assessing and Addressing Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Medication-Assisted Treatment

Food and Drug Administration - FDA takes new steps to encourage the development of novel medicines for the treatment of opioid use disorder

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